It’s likely that few people, if any, have ever told you, “You need to make yourself less important,” regarding your business. But sophisticated buyers look for businesses that can operate without their owners. Unless your goal is to sell or transfer your business, and then stay with the business as a subordinate to assure a smooth transition, you’ll need to train a management staff that can run the business without you. This is the most important Value Driver you’ll install, and for many owners, it’s the hardest, because they aren’t prepared to expend the emotional and mental energy required to remove themselves from their businesses. There are countless technical strategies to making yourself inconsequential to your business, many of which we’ve discussed in previous newsletters. But just as important as the technical aspects are the mental and emotional aspects, so let’s look at some of the common mental and emotional roadblocks you might face as you make yourself inconsequential.
For business owners, the idea of exiting their businesses, which for many owners define their professional lives, can seem like a gigantic undertaking. They ask themselves, “How can I possibly do all of this? Where can I go for help, and what do I need to know?”
When you set about starting your business, you likely had big goals and expansive dreams about its success. Whether success meant having an impact on your community, making as much money as possible, or something else, you probably wanted your business to become the ideal firm in your market.
An important part of a successful ownership transfer, regardless of Exit Path, is the presence of key employees. Key employees are those who have a direct and significant impact on business value, meaningfully participate in the business’ strategic future, and whose combination of skills and experience would be exceedingly difficult to replace.
For many business owners, building their successful businesses began by accurately determining what they had. Whether their businesses provide products, services, or ideas, the success they experienced didn’t come to them blindly. It likely took years of refinement, study, and analysis to figure out the best way to establish and deliver the thing that makes the business successful. The same is true when discussing business exits.
With the new year upon us, many people have begun their journeys to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions. For business owners, it’s no different. Between creating goals for the business to achieve and assuring that the business keeps growing, owners will have much to consider this year. One of the goals most commonly shared by owners is to successfully exit their businesses over the next 10 years. Most business owners have a sense of how much longer they want to remain as owners of their businesses, and the new year is a perfect time to take control of the planning that can make the future successful.
Business owners commonly associate Exit Planning with estate planning, and they aren’t too far off. Good Exit Plans and estate plans both aim to assure that the owner’s family is provided for after the owner is gone. Both an Exit Plan and an estate plan might address a transfer of ownership to an intended recipient following the death of the business owner.
As owners approach their business exits, one topic that’s often overlooked is unexpected death or permanent incapacitation. One reason owners gloss over this topic is because it injects an uncontrollable element into a controlled process. Many successful business owners take pride in the control they have over guiding their businesses toward success, so the idea that all of that hard work can be dashed by death without warning is unsettling. But consider the following case study:
We often hear owners say they want to transfer their businesses to third-party buyers when they first encounter the concept of Exit Planning. However, we’ve observed that in many completed Exit Plans, owners actually choose to transfer their businesses to employees. Some reasons for this decision include employees knowing the culture and values of the business, a desire to keep the business with people the owner knows and trusts, and employees’ inherent desire and commitment to grow the business.
For some business owners, a third-party sale is their best option for a successful business exit. Third-party sales are popular because owners often believe they can get the most money from their businesses in as little time as possible from a third-party buyer. They might be right. But what they may not consider is how little control they have over their businesses, their schedules, and even their futures once the third-party sale process begins. Consider the following case study: After 35 years of building a successful manufacturing company, which employed about 100 people, Lemont Lemieux was ready to retire. Always a do-it-yourselfer, Lemont had hired a business valuation specialist; found an interested buyer; assembled a deal team consisting of a business broker, deal attorney, and his company’s CPA;